Kyoto’s heavy traffic and narrow roads make driving in the city difficult and stressful. You will almost always do better riding a bicycle or catching public transport. Unless you have specific needs, do not even entertain the idea of renting a car to tour the city – it’s far more cost and headache than any traveller needs (plus parking fines start at ¥15,000).
However, it makes sense to rent a car if you plan to explore certain rural areas that aren’t serviced by train lines (such as Miyama-chō). Driving is on the left-hand side in Japan.
Travellers from most nations are able to drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) backed up by their own regular driving licence.
Travellers from Switzerland, France and Germany (and others whose countries are not signatories to the Geneva Convention of 1949 concerning international driving licences) are not allowed to drive in Japan on a regular international licence. Rather, travellers from these countries must have their own licence backed by an authorised translation of the same licence. These translations can be made by their country’s embassy or consulate in Japan, or by the Japan Automobile Federation.
There are several car-hire agencies in Kyoto. Nissan Rent-a-car and Toyota Rentacar Kyoto Eki Shinkansen-guchi Branch are both a short walk from the south (Hachijō) exit of Kyoto Station. The Toyota Rentacar Hyakumamben Branch at the Hyakumamben intersection in Northern Higashiyama is good for those heading north into the Kitayama area.
Some car-hire agencies, including Toyota, have some cars with English GPS systems (called 'car navi' in Japanese). Be sure to ask when making reservations.